Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Homemade Christmas

My mission to make more Christmas presents this year, instead of going mad in the shops, isn't going too well; I'm missing a bit of the knitting pattern so I'm having to guess it, and I haven't even found material for my sewing bits yet. I'll probably end up staying up the night before again, frantically trying to finish it.

I'm home in Durham for the week because we're at the in-laws for the holidays, and while Mum was rooting around in Gran's loft for the Christmas tree today she came across a bag of things that her gran had knitted her when she was a girl.

There was a family of rabbits, a cuddly elephant with an embroidered rug, a couple of beautiful dresses and some tiny hand-knitted undergarments for mum's Sindy dolls.

Best of all though was a patterned beret-style hat that is just right for Ella. No matter how much I practice I'll never be able to knit such delicate things.

Ella modelling the hat

I thought I'd bake some Christmassy goodies too, which I'll have to leave until next week, but we're in charge of Christmas eve supper this year (onion tart with salad and Mark's tasty crumble), so I'm not sure there'll be room in the kitchen. The good news is that now Logan is officially allowed to eat wheat he can help me with some of the baking! The bad news is that I'll have to let him lick the spoon :(

Advent day 15: All that glitters

10 sleeps...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Funniest moment of the day

We were sitting in the Globe theatre, halfway through the tour guide's spiel about outside noise disturbing performances, when we were interrupted by the sound of many feet stamping past and cries of "What do we want?...When do we want it? Now!"

We all assumed students, but no, it was the annual Santathon. Genius.

Manga Shakespeare, anyone?

Cake of the day #8: Afternoon tea at Shakespeare's Globe

Mum bought Mark and I a Red Letter Day last Christmas, for a tour of Shakespeare's Globe theatre on the Southbank followed by afternoon tea. We finally got round to it today - I wanted to be able to appreciate the cakes without a baby in my tummy! - but it was worth the wait.

The tour was interesting, although it was disappointing that we couldn't go backstage or explore behind the scenes. The tea and cake were delicious though, and it was lovely to take our time over it. They lost a point for no choice of jam, and the scones could have been bigger (and warmer), but otherwise very tasty.

Ella was a star too, I think she's a fan of cake!

Advent day 11: The 'real' Santa Claus

I hate that he's owned by a corporation. Bah humbug.

14 sleeps...

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Unthanks at the Union Chapel

I could listen to The Unthanks at any time of year, but there's something about the tone of their voices, the haunting melodies and harmonies and the beautiful strings, that really suits a cold winter's night. The Union Chapel, too, with its church pews and vaulted ceilings, is perfect at Christmas.

The gig was a bit of an experiment - a first half of Anthony and the Johnsons songs and a second of Robert Wyatt covers - but the arrangements really suited the Unthanks sound. For Today I Am A Boy was particularly beautiful, and the tricky string accompaniments were stunning, especially the cello, which always gets me right there. They even managed to squeeze in a bit of clog dancing!

It was a real pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of Rachel, Becky and the band (and the baby bump, which Rachel announced to cover up her mistake - nice recovery!). A total joy of an evening, the perfect start to Christmas.

Advent day 10: I am the snow king

15 sleeps...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Our very allergic little boy

Wheaty goodies

We knew Logan might be prone to allergies because both Mark and I have them, so we purposely waited until he was 6 months old to wean him onto solids. Unfortunately he still turned out wheat and egg allergic (I blogged about it last year) and we've been excluding them from his diet ever since.

Last week his allergies were reviewed and the skin test for wheat came back negative, so yesterday we went in for a wheat challenge. It sounds exciting but basically involves sitting in front of the telly while nurses feed you bits of Weetabix and occasionally check your obs (I know it's more technical than that but Logan's an easy patient!). Last time he was tested he reacted right at the end of the day, so I didn't get my hopes up, but after an afternoon of cereal he still hadn't reacted so now we're slowly introducing wheat into his diet. Hurray!

It's brought up a few issues for me. Firstly, I'd never realised how many wheat products also contain egg, or sometimes contain egg. It was only when I went shopping for wheaty goodies today that I realised the number of things we'll still have to exclude (cakes, obviously, but also some pasta, bread, breadcrumbed meat and pastry). Luckily Penguins and pizza are ok!

It's also made me realise how little some caterers understand about allergies. Last night we went to Giraffe for a celebratory tea, thinking of all the new food on the menu that Logan could choose from. Unfortunately, they class egg as a dairy product when it comes to allergy labelling - clearly wrong on so many levels, even Logan knows eggs don't come from cows - so there was almost nothing on the menu we could identify as definitely egg-free. In the end we went for Logan's usual - grilled chicken burger without the bun. Exciting.

They also don't break down the menu by ingredient (it's the same for companies like Burger King), which makes it difficult to tailor a meal to a child with an allergy. In Giraffe, we know that the burger meat is 100% beef, so he's always been fine as long as he doesn't have the bread. According to the allergy guide though, the kids' burger meal contains wheat. If you don't think to ask, or if the staff don't know, you're going to go hungry.

At least Giraffe's children's menu has a few items that Logan can eat. Most kids' menus rely heavily on wheat - chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pasta, pizza - so we're usually restricted to places that serve jacket potatoes.

So far the egg is proving more difficult than the wheat. A lot of cafes and restaurants in London are aware of wheat allergies - Carluccio's, which just opened in Muswell Hill, has a gluten free menu, and lots of cafes include a gluten free cake on the menu. But it's proving difficult to find out which foods contain egg. The waiter at Carluccio's looked at me like I was mad when I asked if the pasta had egg in, but a lot of fresh pasta is made with it. The staff at Chorak swore down that you couldn't make bread without egg, but none of the bread on sale at Sainsbury's contains it. If you can't rely on the staff to know, then you're stuck ordering the same thing over and over, or avoiding restaurants altogether because you can't trust that your child won't have an allergic episode.

I know there's a lot of cynicism of food 'allergies' these days, because it's a bit faddy to be intolerant to wheat and dairy, but lots of children (and adults) do suffer a genuine food allergy. I don't expect everything on the menu to be suitable - I'm vegetarian, I'm used to having one or two choices when I eat out - but I do wish caterers would be more aware of providing for those with allergies, and of providing clear, useful information about the allergens their products contain.

Advent day 8: Jewelled spider's web

17 sleeps...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Advent day 7: Elf loo

Tanfield Railway thoughtfully provided a bathroom for Santa's elves.

18 sleeps...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cake of the day #7: Dina's pumpkin bread

For Thanksgiving last week Mark's colleague Dina gave him a tin of pumpkin puree and a recipe for pumpkin bread (from It would have been rude not to bake it!

It's more of a moist cake than a bread, a bit like ginger cake in texture but not as gingery. It's delicious, so I thought I'd share the recipe - a bit late for Thanksgiving but it would make a tasty Boxing Day treat.

1 tin pumpkin puree
4 eggs, beaten
8 fl oz vegetable oil
6 fl oz water
675g caster sugar
350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves (we substituted with all spice)
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Grease two square 23cm (9") tins with butter then dust with flour.

In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the cake tins.

Bake for about 50 mins, until a prong (we use a chopstick) inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to stand for a few minutes then remove from the tins and slice into squares (might be easier to slice it in the tin first).

Advent day 2: Cycling Santa

23 sleeps to go...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Love the Christmas web

I found out about the Portable North Pole from a friend on Facebook - you enter the details of your child (or anyone you like) and they get a personalised message from Santa, and it's completely free!

Here's a link to Logan's video. The jury is out on whether it'll cure his fear of Santa...

And I found this Tunnock's snowball game via Twitter. I love the Christmas internet.

Now I am 2 (months)

Happy 2-month birthday Ella Betsy! My beautiful, cheeky little pixie x

Cake of the day #6: chocolate and walnut brownie at Emporium Tearoom

I was so excited at introducing Mum to the Emporium Tearoom on Fortis Green Road that I forgot to take a picture of the cake, whoops! We had a delicious lunch, chunky vegetable soup with a mature cheddar and homemade chutney sandwich - perfect on a wintry day like today. The brownie was yummy, and mum had a tasty carrot cake too.

The On The Wall art collective have an exhibition on at the tearoom at the moment, their second, on the theme of Love, Peace, Happiness. Each piece, by members of the group and other local artists, sits in a box frame and every one costs £60. I've got my eye on this one by Sandy Thornton.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

We spent a lovely family weekend in Durham, which is blanketed in snow at the moment. It was quite exciting travelling north on the train and waiting for the first white fields (just north of York). Ella saw her first snow!

Dad had organised a visit to the Tanfield Railway Santa special - you take the steam train, powered by magic coal of course, to the North Pole, where little ones get a present from Santa and grown ups get a mince pie and sherry :).

The snow made it really magical, and it ran as usual (the car park was closed so we had to park at the 'North Pole', but I don't think Logan noticed!). Logan was nonplussed by Santa, but he loved his present (a cuddly owl that he christened Tallulah) and he was thrilled with the train ride.

A really lovely Christmassy trip out.

Logan built a snowman with Grandad - with freshly picked carrot arms instead of a nose.

After a really nice catch up over lunch with my aunts, uncles and cousins, Mum drove us back to London yesterday through blizzards and traffic jams. It's so cold that there's still Yorkshire snow on the roof of the car 24 hours on - the only snow in north London (so far)!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Cake of the day #5: Banana cake

One cake wasn't enough today! I was trying to be good but by the time I'd viewed a flat, had a late lunch at Crocodile Antiques and fed Ella it was too late to head home before going back out to pick up Logan from nursery, and too cold to hang around outside, so I just had to find shelter in a cafe.

Feast, on Muswell Hill Broadway, is a deli with a cafe next door. They'd run out of brownies (disappointing) but I had a very tasty banana cake and orange juice instead.

Getting creative

I don't know what it is - days at home with no one to talk to (not counting Ella, who can't talk back!), or shows like Kirstie's Homemade Home - but I've been itching to get creative in the last few weeks.

I'm determined to make some Christmas presents this year, instead of buying everything. I've always wanted to make a patchwork quilt - Rosie Brown Boutique in Muswell Hill now sells packs of material squares and all the bits you need - but I think I might start smaller with some lavender bags like the ones on Kirstie's programme tonight. I bought some pretty wool to knit with too, so I'll keep you posted on my crafty progress!

My main creative outlet so far has been writing. I haven't written stories in years, but I bought myself a lovely notebook a few months ago and yesterday I started writing. I don't have any grand plans, I've no idea what the plot is, but I'm enjoying having the time to scribble a few pages while Ella is snoozing, and just enjoying creating something new.

I made my first ever tart from scratch tonight, very proud! Admittedly rustic (don't think it would pass muster with Michel Roux Jr) but tasty anyway (recipe here at Abel and Cole).

And I concocted an apple and plum pie with the leftover pastry. Now that's the kind of creative thinking I like.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Cake(s) of the day #4: Fabulous Bakin' Boys

After last night's indulgence I was having a 'good' day today - healthy breakfast, soup with brown bread for lunch. And then I collected a parcel from the post office. I've been carrying the slip for it around with me for a couple of weeks, and today was the first day I managed to get up and out of the flat in time to collect it (the depot closes at 12.30 - yes, okay, still not that early but it takes a lot of effort to get two of us dressed these days!).

I had no idea what it was, so imagine my delight when I opened the box to discover a whole host of baked goodies from Fabulous Bakin' Boys, to apologise for a box of jamless jam flapjacks I bought Logan for halloween last month.

And to top it all off, Abel & Cole delivered a complimentary mini mince pie with the veg box this afternoon. I'm clearly not meant to diet. I've managed to hold out all day but there's a cherry muffin in there with my name on it...